A brace from Jon Benton and further goals by Yonis Farah and Matt Rush helped Southend United U18s to defeat Charlton Athletic 4-2 in a pre-season friendly at Sparrows Lane on Saturday.
Blues trailed twice against their Category Two Academy opponents, but Benton equalised with a simply stunning strike midway through the first half and Farah’s fortunate finish brought the visitors level again shortly after half-time. First-year scholars Benton and Rush then netted either side of the hour mark to hand Dave Huzzey’s side a fine victory.
Huzzey was able to name a strong side, although Dru Yearwood was again involved with the first-team in their own pre-season fixtute against Ebbsfleet United. Harry Seaden started in goal, with Nathan Bishop having featured regularly for the U21s so far this summer, whilst Marley Hutchings again appeared at right-back with Dan Humphreys set to serve a suspension at the start of the competitive campaign.
The teenage Shrimpers made a good start to the encounter, and the combination of Benton and Eren Kinali on the right-hand side worked well to set up Sam Knock for a 30-yard strike that cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches in the fifth minute. Seconds later Emile Acquah pressurised the goalkeeper into a mistake and Rush stole the ball from a defender before firing straight at the shotstopper.
Blues had enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening ten minutes, and Seaden was only called into action for the first time at the end of that period when Charlton counter-attacked and he claimed a close-range finish above his head. Two minutes later the hosts took the lead when a right-wing free-kick was floated to the far post and, although Seaden made an initial save, the follow-up was forced home from five yards out.
Kinali responded by curling into the side-netting with the outside of his right foot, but Charlton could have extended their lead had it not been for the presence of Seaden, who made a superb save after a quarter-of-an-hour to turn a fierce 25-yard effort around the upright. Sixty seconds later the gloveman was called upon to brilliantly beat the ball away at point-black range from the resultant corner.
The importance of those saves was emphasised in the 23rd minute when Southend levelled for the first time. Again Rush was involved, hustling a defender into making an error which saw the ball worked wide for Kinali. He cut back to Benton, who threaded his finish through a crowded penalty area and in off the top of the left-hand post from the edge of the 18-yard box.
The Addicks could have moved ahead again straight from the kick-off, but a shot was guided against the base of the right-hand post and Seaden scrambled along his goal-line to keep out the follow-up with his legs. Five minutes later the England U16s goalkeeper kept another effort when presented with a one-on-one situation, and the rebound was smashed against the bar.
Charlton did restore their advantage in the 32nd minute when an attacker got the better of Hutchings before drilling his shot into the net, and Southend were dealt a further blow when Knock, who had been performing in the holding midfield role, picked up an injury and had to be replaced by O’Shane Stewart.
Despite that, Blues ended the first half well, and Rush slid a shot wide in the 39th minute following a precise pass from Benton before spurning an even better opportunity three minutes later when, having won the ball brilliantly from a defender six yards out, he blasted over. Acquah then swept a Kinali centre past the Charlton custodian, only for a defender to clear off the line.
Southend carried that momentum into the second period, and they equalised within two minutes of the restart. Full-back Farah received the ball from Stewart, who had spread play to the left flank from the edge of the penalty area. He then tormented the Charlton right-back before sending the ball in at the near post from the left touchline.
That may have been a little fortuitous, but there was nothing lucky about Benton’s second goal of the game eleven minutes later. The midfielder started the move from the centre circle, releasing Kinali down the right-hand side, and continued his run to the edge of the penalty area, where he held off the attentions of his marker to drive Terrell Egbri’s pass into the net.
Huzzey immediately made four further changes to side, but that had little effect as they extended their lead in the 62nd minute. Rush, a lifelong Addicks supporter, completed the move by smashing the ball into the net from ten yards out after Acquah had managed to divert Kinali’s cross into his path.
Further substitutions were made, and Charlton came into the game during the final 20 minutes. Miles Mitchell-Nelson made an excellent goal-line clearance after a low shot had beaten Bishop, and another opportunity was wasted in the 73rd minute when a right-wing cross was nodded over from eight yards out.
Bishop was then forced to make a sprawling save besides his right-hand post with ten minutes remaining before making another important contribution by leaping to his right to palm an effort around the post to prevent Charlton from halving their deficit. That was enough for Blues to record a 4-2 win ahead of next week’s friendly against Watford U18s.
Southend United U18s: Harry Seaden (Nathan Bishop, 46), Marley Hutchings (Dan Humphreys, 59), Yonis Farah (Idemula Osimeh, 63), Sam Knock (O’Shane Stewart, 35), Taylor Curran, Zak Pianim (Miles Mitchell-Nelson, 59), Eren Kinali (Terrell Egbri, 72), Jon Benton (Harry Cuthbert, 59), Emile Acquah (Sewa Marah, 63), Matt Rush (Dan Hawkes, 63), Egbri (Freddy Eastwood Jnr, 59).
Goals: Benton (23, 58), Farah (47), Rush (62).